The Foreign Service Journal, November 2022

56 NOVEMBER 2022 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Memoir Writing TheArt of Telling Your Story Frank J. Young retired from the Foreign Service after 33 years with the USAID. He is former mission direc- tor to Ghana and deputy assistant administrator in USAID’s Africa and Asia bureaus in Washington, D.C. Overseas, he has served in the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, and Ghana. He is currently chair of the Foreign Service Retirees Association of Florida. The decision to write a memoir is not to be taken lightly. Having done it, a retired USAID FSO shares his experience. BY FRANK J . YOUNG FOCUS ON FOREIGN SERVICE AUTHORS H eading into retirement, it’s natural to look back and reflect on one’s career and life over a job span that, in the Foreign Service, may be 25 years or longer. There is great temptation to want to commit memories and events to paper to show family and friends what you experienced in your many assignments and at many posts. Perhaps you want to write about a seminal experience that influ- enced you in ways that explain the life path you chose, or simply catalog a life well lived in service of your country. There are many reasons why any of us may be tempted to write our story. They are not likely to include matching literary wits with a William Faulkner or Toni Morrison, or making The New York Times Bestseller List. Yet writing about one’s life can be such a heady experience that it’s easy to forget the point of it. Eric Idle once mused in his own memoir, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life , that writing a memoir is at once thrilling and a bit shameful. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a meaningful enterprise. My memoir about my year in India at age 19, which was published this past January, took 11 years, 22 drafts, and eight copyedits to complete. Two years into the process, in 2013, I took a memoir writing course that helped me figure out how to write a book that someone (even if only family members) would pick up off the bedside table. It took me five years to settle on a title. My family had doubts that I would stick with it. Let’s face it: writing a book about yourself is hard. It takes energy, tenacity, and focus. Before You Write: Questions to Ponder Here are questions for you to ponder before embarking on what may be the most challenging thing you ever do: Why am I writing this? What is the story I want to tell? Why would anyone,